Stocks Turn Flat as Confidence Sags

Stocks turned flat Tuesday after a report showed consumer confidence continues to fade and an early rally fizzled.

Consumer confidence fell to a record low in Januaryas housing woes and deepening layoffs have reduced the nation's mood to a low buzz of anxiety.

"Consumers remain quite pessimistic about the state of the economy," Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Research Center, said in a statement.

Banks were the leaders out of the gate, with American Express, Citigroup and Bank of America at the front of the Dow pack.

The cause for optimism in the early rally was a new wave of earnings surprises.

American Express reported late Monday that its fourth-quarter earnings dropped 72 percent but topped expectations.

Bristol Myers Squibb also surpassed forecasts as strong sales of blockbuster blood thinner Plavix help the drug maker swing to a huge profit.

These were the latest in a series of earnings surprises: More than half of the S&P firms that reported earnings have topped expectations.

Of course, there was still plenty of gloom in earnings.

DuPont posted a larger-than-expected quarterly loss and lowered its 2009 outlook, saying it experienced lower paint sales because of the slump in the auto industry.

Verizon shares were the biggest drag on the Dow after the telecom met its earnings target but reported a slowdown in its wireless business.

President Barack Obama will head to Capitol Hill to build support for a proposed $825 billion stimulus package. Obama says the package is key to helping the economy from its current economic slump.

The president had an early political victory Monday when Timothy Geithner won confirmation as US Treasury secretary. Geithner vowed to act quickly in the face of the financial crisis.

William Dudley will take Geithner’s old job as the head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, a source familiar with the decision told Reuters.

Texas Instruments pleased investors will a smaller-than-expected drop in quarterly profit Monday. The chip-maker said it would slash 12 percent of its workforce.

This Week:

TUESDAY: Fed 2-day meeting starts; Earnings from Yahoo and Sun Micro
WEDNESDAY: Davos Economic Forum begins; Weekly mortgage applications; Weekly crude inventories; Fed decision on interest rates; Earnings from AT&T, Boeing, Novartis, Pfizer, Wells Fargo, Boston Scientific, Qualcomm and Starbucks
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims; durable-goods orders; new-home sales; Earnings from Altria, Amazon, Broadcom, Colgate-Palmolive, Ford, Eli Lilly and Wyeth
FRIDAY: Q4 GDP; consumer sentiment; Earnings from Chevron, ExxonMobil, P&G and Honeywell

Send comments to